How Olivia Honn maintained hope amid two major surgeries, 12 cycles of chemo and several weeks of radiation.

Photo: Martha Manzanares.

by Olivia Honn
NEW ORLEANS

Two years ago, tests confirmed that my ovarian cancer had returned with a vengeance. A major exploratory surgery showed 17 additional tiny malignant growths throughout my lower abdomen. I was crushed by these unexpected results.

But in the very next instant, I felt resolve. I knew that I was facing a battle and would use the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to fight my illness. This shift in attitude was proof that something had changed deep inside, because in 2012, when I was first diagnosed, it took me several days and a lot of tears to get to that mindset.

Sometimes that sense of hope was hard to maintain, because every time I had a CT scan or blood test, doctors found something else to treat, such as a mass. For a while, every day, I would think about my mortality and how that would affect my family and close friends. At times, it was hard to chant at all. In total, I had two major surgeries, 12 cycles of chemotherapy and several weeks of radiation.

Olivia as an ER nurse.

But I was very fortunate in many ways. I continued to work full time as an emergency room nurse on the night shift. I had little to no effects of chemo and bounced right back after my surgeries. Besides the time I had scheduled off after my surgeries, I never missed a day of work. Sometimes, I would leave my shift at 7 a.m. and go directly to chemo sessions or get blood drawn. I even got a promotion during this time.

I strove to earnestly maintain a seeking spirit in faith, have courage and keep a positive attitude. I challenged myself to really believe in this practice—that anything was possible.

Also a mainstay throughout, and a manifestation of my fortune, was the amazing people around me—from my husband, sister, family, co-workers and close friends to the SGI members, who were constantly chanting for me. This support sustained me in the dark times, when I couldn’t even chant for myself.

And then there was my mom. She started practicing Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism in 1982, when I was 4 or 5, about the same age that my daughter is now. During the past two years of my cancer, my mother fought intensely for me in front of the Gohonzon, focusing on Nichiren Daishonin’s words: “Praying as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (“Rebuking Slander of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444).

I strove to earnestly maintain a seeking spirit in faith, have courage and keep a positive attitude.

On good days, I would chant with so much intensity that I had no doubt I would be cancer-free. And then something that I came across last year stuck with me. SGI President Ikeda cited these words from his mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda: “You will recover without fail as long as you continue practicing in earnest. If, on the other hand, you have doubts as to whether you will get better, then your prayers will not be answered . . . Because our bodies have the ability to become ill, they also possess the power to fix themselves . . . We need to pour our lives into praying to the Gohonzon; we need to engrave the Gohonzon in our lives. When we chant daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] with true determination as though offering up our very lives, we cannot fail to overcome any illness” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, pp. 22–23).

I continued my various treatments, but they were no longer the focus of my life. I began to focus instead on my mission as a vice district women’s leader. I chanted for all our members and thought about the best way to support them and our district as a whole. When I had been a region young women’s leader, I sometimes traveled to five states in a short span of time. But now, I decided to focus on the person right in front of me. I also began naturally talking about Buddhism with my friends and continued making monthly financial contributions to the SGI-USA. I think being able to contribute to kosen-rufu itself in this way is one of the benefits of the practice.

In January, I got a clean CT scan and normal blood work with no signs of cancer. I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and relief, and deep appreciation for this practice. I know that this victory was a direct result of the fortune that I had created in my life through supporting others in faith.

While I felt triumphant, I also felt like the football coach telling the team that they can enjoy this victory today, but it’s back to work Monday morning. In many ways, I feel like I have just started my journey of human revolution.

I realized that working nights was keeping me from my family and from fully participating in SGI-USA activities. Last month, I started a new job as a home health nurse with a very flexible schedule. Now I’m able to spend more time with my daughter, Charlotte, who is 5, and put her to bed every night. She will be someone important to kosen-rufu and will always know Sensei’s heart—this is my vow. And I’m able to go to every meeting and do home visits. I’m feeling good every day, living a life based on this practice. And despite continuing hospital bills, I eagerly participated this year in May Contribution to show my appreciation for this amazing practice and organization.

My human revolution is still a work in progress, and I’m not out of the woods just yet. But, at this moment, I feel anything is possible.